Inside USD

USD Excellence Expands at Creative Collaborations

Friday, April 15, 2011

Creative Collaborations, a celebration of University of San Diego undergraduate student-faculty research work, consisted of many attractions Thursday, proving Executive Vice President and Provost Julie Sullivan’s point that “every year it just gets bigger and better.”

This showcase for academic excellence offered visitors the chance to see the most projects featured in its six-year history with 165 presentations — 157 posters in the Hahn University Center’s Forums and, for the first time, eight oral presentations lasting 10-15 minutes in two separate rooms in the UC. Sullivan said a “broader cross-section” of academic areas was represented from the College of Arts and Sciences than ever before. There were also numerous entries from the School of Business Administration, Engineering Programs and the School of Leadership and Education Sciences.

“The research you’ll see is not only work for today,” Sullivan said. “We have students that go on to have their work published in a journal or they’ll get to attend a conference and present it; this is something they can put on their graduate school applications.”

In a few instances, though, it was about students learning about local history and a rich culture. Four lowrider cars, ranging from 1929 to 1953, were parked outside the Hahn University Center, courtesy of the Amigos San Diego Car Club. The cars were connected to Ethnic Studies courses taught by Department Chair and Professor Alberto Pulido, PhD, and one of five poster presentations involving a USD documentation project on the history of San Diego’s Chicano Park.

“It’s a joy for me and others to come to this institution today to share this and have people understand our particular lifestyle,” said Rigoberto Reyes, owner of a beautiful green 1929 Willys Knight low rider that featured airbrushed art of actors Maria Felix and Antonio Aguilar, stars of the 1959 Mexican film, La Cucaracha, and artwork to honor his mother, Eustolia. “This is about women from the revolution who were an inspiration for soldiers at the time,” said Reyes (pictured). “This art gives character to the vehicle. Each vehicle has a name (his car, La Cucaracha, is) a persona in itself.”

USD students Julieta Barrios and Annette Garcilazo, along with Michael Lopez Heredia and Steven Mendulee, did their project, titled, “Chicano Park – University of San Diego Documentation Project: What is Lowrider Culture?” They said learning about the cars and its place within the culture was “eye-opening.”

“There’s a negative perception, a misconception, that low riders are all about gang culture,” Barrios said. “But we learned that it’s a form of protection, it’s about being part of a community, family and an identity.”

Creative Collaborations’ identity, meanwhile, involves exposing students to high quality undergraduate research opportunities. Prospective USD Honors Program students and students from San Diego’s Mater Dei Catholic High School got to see this firsthand as they attended the event. And, if they happened to meet Michelle Powelson on Thursday, they know it’s possible to join a faculty-led research project as a freshman.

Powelson (pictured, top) raised her hand three weeks into the start of her college career last fall when Chemistry Professor David De Haan sought students interested in working on a research project tied to air pollution through a National Science Foundation grant. Powelson expressed interest and hasn’t looked back. On Thursday, she discussed her poster for a project titled, “Investigating the pH-dependent Formation of Light-Absorbing Products from Mixtures of Amine and Dicarbonyl Compounds.”

“I’ve always had a love for science and this has been a wonderful experience. I was looking for something that would interest me and this has been a great opportunity to do research,” said Powelson, who recently chose chemistry as her major. She has also stayed busy through her involvement with University Ministry as a Eucharistic minister at Founders Chapel and assisting with child care at The Immaculata.

Powelson’s summer plans are to continue doing research with De Haan through USD’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

While SURE is an established program, the newest wrinkle to the Creative Collaborations format is to offer students the chance to do special breakout oral presentations. Students from theatre arts, sociology, marine science, electrical engineering and industrial and systems engineering were among the speakers. Project topics ranged from bringing solar energy to a Sudan village , low-income students’ feeling of belonging and the impact of immigration on Solagueños in Los Angeles.

Jacob Turley, who will graduate in May with a degree in chemistry, was the final presenter, discussing his project, “Kinetic Analysis and Characterization of the Atmospheric Condensed-Phase Glycerol Reactions.”

He appeared comfortable discussing his project, likely stemming from the Buffalo, N.Y., native’s confidence gained through the many educational opportunities he’s had as a USD student. Turley (pictured, foreground) did a presentation at a West Coast undergraduate research conference in Los Angeles, had done poster presentations for two previous Creative Collaborations projects, spent a summer doing research with De Haan in Boulder, Colo., assisted on another De Haan project funded by a NASA grant and three times he’s worked on projects whose findings have been published.

So, for Turley, doing one more Creative Collaborations presentation, this time in a new format, added another memorable experience and another step forward for his development.

“I liked it because, as students, we need to be confident in public speaking,” he said. “I like Creative Collaborations because it puts chemistry into an art form. I like that it brings out a different kind of creativity and it’s an opportunity to increase the value of the research and to demonstrate a work ethic that’s required.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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